Fritz Lang and Weimar Berlin

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A large part of time spent writing about the past is researching with hopes of authenticating the historical climate. I get lost in the learning and have to nudge myself to get on with the writing.  “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol” begins with George Hero who finds himself in Berlin, 1922, succumbing to the corruptible effects of opium and the cabaret nightlife. There are three strands from the Weimar era I’m stressing in the first third of the manuscript. First, Berlin was a mechanized, stimulating, indecorous urban center. Second, director Fritz Lang was a key pioneer of German Expressionism in the film industry. Be my guest and read last summer’s post about German Expressionism HERE.  Finally, some veterans epitomized by Hemingway’s “Lost Generation” resorted to the corrupting effects of opium, reckless behavior, and Lustmord  as a reaction to the horrors of World War I.

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Last summer I visited Berlin, and that helps me today, but several neighborhoods and sections of 1922 Berlin were obliterated during the bombing of WWII. For accurately creating the historical climate, I turned to the 1927 silent film, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, an impressive composition about urban life during the Weimar Republic. Before the catastrophe of Nazism, Berlin was a mechanized, modern center of Europe. With subways, canals, taxis, factories, and elevators, Walther Ruttmann began his film with the sunrise, and clocks chronicled the day of Berliners. How did they labor? How did they play? What did they eat, and what did they wear? While watching a day in the life of 1927, I am reminded of ordinary occurrences that are extinct today. Toddlers and children played outside with very little supervision. Milk was delivered to your home in bottles. On the corner of intersections, newsies sold newspapers for five cents, and policemen directed traffic.  Horses still competed with cars and trolleys for the use of the street. Men pushed brooms while women beat the dust out of their rugs. Water was pitched on front steps for a daily scrubbing. Reports were typed and letters were written. People shared rotary phones and were restricted to booths and cords. These details seem meaningless, but they are vital when recreating the time period.

If you get a chance to watch the silent film below, notice how the score by Edmund Meisel aligns with the hustle and downtime of the city. The effect–Berlin was a living, breathing entity. If you missed my post about last summer’s trip to Germany, you can read about Munich and BERLIN HERE.

 Fritz Lang 

My character George will stumble into Fritz Lang’s world and become involved with the making of Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler (1922). What’s happening to George’s psyche mirrors the country’s neuroses displayed visually in Lang’s film and substantiated by Otto Friedrich’s account of Berlin during the Weimar Republic, Before the Deluge. So, how wild were those cabarets? For descriptions of the venue, the clientele, and street addresses, Mel Gordon’s Voluptuous Panic was an eye-popper.

From all of this, George Hero emerges from my imagination, and here’s how the manuscript opens:

 “He reached for the hand that was not there with an ache to grab his thumb, trace the outline of his fingers, or scrape off a lengthy fingernail. In his mind he made a fist and punched the face of the skittish private who had misfired. Other times he gouged the brown eyes with long lashes staring vacant at him. Out of the shadows the sun poured into the cabin car and George squinted out the window as the train arrived at the Berlin station. The information board read: January 16, 1921. 13:00. The steam escaped from the train with a whoosh, and the iron wheels groaned to a halt. George stepped onto the platform. Dimly, he realized since his discharge, he had roamed without forethought. At first, he was reluctant to return to Chicago to his parents after the war, because he discovered many women in France were widows and attracted to him. With his pitiful command of French and their few words of English, it was easier to communicate with smiles and sympathetic fingers. Especially if she had children by her side. They looked up at the stump at his right wrist, and their eyes filled with curiosity and disgust. He wrapped the wound with clean bandages during the day and at night massaged the stretched, shiny skin.” 

Hier endet meine Update.  Okay, back to the writing.

36 thoughts on “Fritz Lang and Weimar Berlin

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  1. Looks good Cindy. I love Lang’s films, especially ‘M’, and I enjoyed the writings by Christopher Isherwood about life there between the wars, but closer to the rise of the Nazis. I have been to Berlin, but when it was still divided. I went from the East into the West, and it was an illuminating experience. Sadly, I saw none of the 1920s decadence that appeals so much…
    I will enjoy watching the film you included in this post.
    https://beetleypete.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/holiday-and-travel-east-germany-1979/
    Best wishes from England, Pete.

    1. Thanks, Pete! You will be happy to hear that the burlesque tradition is having a comeback where East Berlin once stood. That neighborhood has had a face lift and is where one goes if one is into that kind of wild and crazy stuff. 😉

  2. A wonderful film director. Lesser known but great films of his are “Frau Im Mond” and then, in the USA, “Scarlet Street”. I’m sure I’ve seen a silent Indian epic but I can’t think of the title. A really interesting blog post. Thanks.

  3. Hi Cindy! Welcome back to blogging 🙂 I’m just sort of back myself, though haven’t written a single review yet. Oh I wish I could visit Berlin one day! Great post as always.

    1. Hi Ruth! I took a break from my break from blogging ;). I figured a writing update was in order and I’ve been watching a lot of silent films and reading books–needed to share. How was Disney World? Did you like Harry Potter? Cheers, Cindy

  4. A powerful and wholly engaging start, Cindy. And I agree with your assessment of writing historical works–it is an endless rabbit hole, and one I rarely want to back out of. Getting lost in another era is hypnotic and enticing. Creating the skill to do that for a reader is a heady talent, indeed.
    If the opening paragraphs are any indication of the rest of the book, this will be a potent tale.
    Enjoy the process. Back to the rabbit hole!

  5. Dr Mabuse is one of my favourite films! Even though it is a silent film, it is so mature and gripping, I watched it on the edge of my seat! The 1920s were a fascinating era in art and cinema and was such a cosmopolitan time in Berlin. I look forward to more posts!

      1. Oh I love those scenes! I love the Countess’ fireplace!

        Yes those early expressionist films were wonderful. The Cabinet of Dr Caligeri has fabulous sets too! It was such a creative time in the 1920s…

  6. Symphony is so fascinating & chilling. Would that lady believe we’d be writing of her step-scrubbing today?

    Btw, I’m with jfwknifton that Woman in the Moon is worth a peek. 😀

    1. Tim, yes, you are right! The clocks, the lions at the zoo, the crazy caberet, the division of classes. You really see a society and the score that surrounds it. Yes, since John’s suggestion, I watched it. Very sweet!

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